A Late Start: Planting Veg In July to Build Tighter Bonds

I was looking out at the garden the other day and realized there were quite a few empty spots and a lot of weeds needing pulling. It was the end of June, and I thought for sure that it’d be a late start for us to get anything into the ground and have a successful harvest. But I decided to look up the growing schedule for my zone anyways and see if it wasn’t too late to put something in the ground. And to my complete surprise, it was not.

In fact, the beginning of July is a great time to start a bunch of plants from seed, seeing as how the soil is warm and some of the crops like a cooler finish to their growing season. So I got out into the garden, weeded and planted a few different types of seed. I was happy with my efforts, but what I think I was more thrilled about was starting something when I thought it was too late and the help I received along the way.

Our Garden In All Its Mid-Summer Glory! My dad ripped up the front lawn one day because we weren’t using it and he wanted a bigger vegetable garden.

Starting Late

This is a subject I know something about. By the time I was in middle school, I had already started the process of dissociating from my life. I was doing poorly in school, not making many friends and not finding things that I was excited about doing or even liked doing. When it came to my future, I wasn’t focused on it, mostly because everybody that traditionally would have guided me had checked out of my life already.

Now I understand that it wasn’t entirely their fault. They were dealing with a mountain of disruption, an unruly teen (aka me) being the lest of their problems. Sorry guys. But still, this left the twelve year-old me in a very vulnerable position. I had no idea what I was doing and all I really wanted was to feel some sort of belonging and to feel loved. So naturally by the time I got to high school, I checked out completely.

Confusing Street Cred for Acceptance

This is where I began to rebel against just about everything. And for no good reason. I was watching those around me live life styles like rock stars, so naturally that’s the route I took as well. But this left me in a place where I was unable to take care of myself, or build lasting relationships and find fulfilling work. This wasn’t entirely true, as I was surviving, but without the close and loving connections and only a bottle between us, I wasn’t really connected with many people. I was mostly buzzed, in front of a screen playing video games.

For me, it was about how I was being seen by others that mattered. This was where I confused my image with self worth. And this is nothing new. We seem to be caught perennially in the cycle of forgetting our own value and seeking it outside, somewhere else. So if that’s true, then the times we stray from ourselves to seek validation or acceptance, we’re really in need of the work of coming back to ourselves to feel that wholeness of being again.

This is something that I’m just coming to understand now, two decades after my initial fall. And even after realizing what I’ve been missing for so long, it still feels fresh. The chance to start something anew. Like a new version of myself is emerging, ready to begin again. Just like planting new seed in the beginning of July, there’s still plenty of growing season left to enjoy the new crops.

The Help Along The Way

It’s also equally as important to recognize the help I’ve received along the way as well. Because without help, we’d all be a little lost. While I was in the garden, planting the seeds, I was really only working on the foundation of my father’s work. The garden is his labor of love and I jump in and help where and when I’m able to. So together, with the help of my step-mother, we’re all working to create something that will hopefully yield more than just the fruits of our labor along the way.

The time spent together weeding, laughing at how a volunteer squash plant has taken over a good portion, nah, all of the compost pile! Or the fresh salad that we were able to make for our neighbors 4th of July party, that everybody enjoyed. And hopefully, with any amount of luck, we’ll be harvesting gourds that we will be able to decorate our Thanksgiving table with. And this is all to say, that we haven’t been very close for very long. But by gardening together, we’ve found a place where we can connect, let down our guarded emotions and feel a little more belonging with one another.

Volunteer Squash Plant Taking Over The Yard!

Building a New Foundation

About seven or eight years ago, I was in a difficult position. The woman I loved intensely had just left me, leaving me with no where to go accept one place I kept returning to when times were tough for me. My dad’s house. This seemed to happen every decade or so, so this was rote by now. Only this time was different.

Something inside of me had changed. What made the woman I was with so special to me was, I had made the decision to change the ways I was living for her, in hopes that she would change her ways as well. This however, did not work in my favor. And more to the point, I made the decision without all the information I needed, in order to see clearly what was happening to me. The reasons behind my actions, what was motivating me to change. But it forced me to come to terms with somethings I had been ignoring for a long time. Mainly my relationship with the family that stood by me.

The Early Years

When I was young, I remember things being pretty good. Our family gathered often, we did things together like go to baseball games and cookouts at family friends’ houses. But things changed rather abruptly, leaving a lot of people very hurt and unable to move forward. Me being one of them. We stayed loyal to our state of suffering, choosing to keep ourselves locked away from one another for fear of opening up and being wounded again. But all throughout the years, even when things got very bad for everybody, there was one person who kept the home fires burning, so to speak. My father.

He had been hurt traumatically, just as the rest of us had been. But he chose to stay inside his vulnerability. Instead of covering it over with alcohol or viscously mean defenses, he chose the life more vulnerable. It was solitary for a while, but he never gave up. In fact, that is one of his values, perseverance. Sure, he had his own battles to fight, but he is always willing to help another in their battle, with a supportive and understanding quality that is rare.

It was with him and my step mother, who I’ve returned to time and time again, when I’ve fallen on tough times. And I feel, until fairly recently that, I’ve ritually taken their kindness and support for granted. I stayed loyal to the self destructive ways of building relationships for so long, that I saw genuine kindness and support as signs of weakness. This was a backwards way of seeing the world for sure, but it was how I had survived for so long.

Stronger Together

And that’s not to say that One day I woke up and we all hugged it out and sang and danced in a Pollyannaish way (full disclosure, I had to Google Pollyanna, if you’re interested). It took a few years of awkwardly brushing up against our overly cautious boundaries before we understood what it meant to be a family. One example being, I bought my father two chord of logs for us to cut and chop for firewood. I thought it would be a good bonding experience. Father and son chopping chord wood together. But instead, he ended up cutting the entire two chords himself! And he was in his 70’s! He just didn’t see it as anything but another chore to do.

But that’s how my family was raised. You don’t ask for help, and you don’t make any waves. But we’ve slowly been breaking free from the mindset that we have to do everything alone. We’ve been spending more time together as a family. Cooking meals, talking and making plans for the future. These are all the small events that we were just too afraid to do with one another because we were so uncertain of where we stood in each others regard. But once we started to connect, these types of experiences came more naturally. It was as though everybody was waiting on anybody else to make the first move. And that’s all it took.

An example, I suggested that we start family dinner Fridays. An idea I took from my self-care Sunday routine of taking good care and cooking a special meal for myself on Sunday nights. Only I suggested we do the same on Fridays as a family. Before we knew it, we were all excited about the new recipes we would be making. The meals came together in no time and we spent more time talking around the dining room table than we did any other time during our week. While usually using the fresh veg we planted in our garden for our meals, making them all the more special and gratifying.

A Late Start Is Better Than No Start

And it’s with this in mind, our family meals, the time spent gardening together, the nature walks we take, that I look back and recognize that, yeah, we may have gotten a late start, but that’s not to say that it wasn’t worth the while. Because it most definitely is.

And I recognize that it’s not always easy to see past the defenses that we’ve built up. The ones we cling to because we were just trying to survive, a difficult or abusive family situation. Or maybe you were left on your own with no one to guide you, only knowing hurt along the way. But it is a far better thing to be open emotionally, than in a constant state of fear for your emotional well being.

Sometimes it’s wise to set rigid boundaries. Especially around those who are all too willing to trample all over you when you let them in. But just know that there are people out there who are not only capable of, but enjoy taking good care of their relationships and loved ones. It’s possible to open up and feel safe and loved.

And it’s never too late to start on this journey. It may feel overwhelming at times, or even as though it’s not worth the effort. But it most definitely is. And you will be all the better for it. So be persistent! It isn’t always an easy journey, but it’s almost always an interesting one. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Helmsley Walled Garden productive garden vegetable plot bordered with apple trees – 2018-05-09 DSC_6104” by mattcornock is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

How to Know What Support Looks Like if You’ve Never Really Had It In the Past

Support and feeling supported was something that didn’t come to me naturally. This was mostly due to me feeling like a burden to my caregivers, whenever I expressed a need or a want. The term, selfish was tossed around all too liberally when we spoke about one another and how we expressed our needs. It seemed that no matter what we were asking, it was always too much.

I’d like to go into what the act of support feels and looks like, for me, in this post. If you grew up in an environment similar to mine, you’ll likely feel that anytime you express a need, you are putting somebody else out for just having this need. This is unhealthy. But if we’re never taught what healthy support looks like, then we simply don’t know what we don’t know. Though it is possible to feel supported in healthy ways. All it takes is some hard work and the right people : )

What Does Support Even Mean?

While I was growing up, there was a large emphasis placed on the rugged individual. Someone who could hold their own, usually a man, no matter what the situation was and that we don’t need support from others. We were expected to do everything on our own and do it perfectly. This is/was unreasonable. I didn’t know this at the time, but I was also idolizing action heroes such as Rambo and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character from, “The Predator”, not realizing how unrealistic these ideals were.

I used phrases such as, “man up” in my youth, implying that if you were a real man, you’d be able to handle it, whatever “It” was. And this vein of thinking was carried throughout my family, as well as in popular culture at the time.

My parents got divorced when I was eight years old and I think I got the same speech from every male family member at the time. It was them saying to me, “you’re the man of the house now Adam.” I had no idea what this meant, and I’m guessing that they didn’t either judging from how they were acting as “men”. I was a boy, trying to understand what was happening to my family at the time. The prospect of being in charge was terrifying to me. And on top of that fear, my family was now my responsibility!? I had no idea what to do with this information at such a young age. So I disconnected from my family. Retreated into video games and stayed out late at night, avoiding coming home to the mess that was being left unattended.

When Your Environment is Corrosive to Support

In the environment that my caregivers created, we told the other how they were feeling. We never asked any questions about the other’s emotional states, or did any sort of mirroring. We never asked one another, “how did that make you feel?” When we did talk about emotions, it was usually in a way where one person was telling the other, what they were feeling. For example, comments such as, “you were just so selfish, pissy or narcissistic” were injected into our interactions without asking how the other person was feeling. We just told them how they felt, but if we dug a little deeper, behind the reactions, we most likely would have seen the hurt and neglect we were inflicting on one another.

And if we did speak about emotions, they were usually the more difficult ones such as anger. We did not have a vocabulary for what we were experiencing emotionally, because it wasn’t safe to explore our emotional worlds around each other in order to develop a language. This was due to us being viciously demeaning and mean to anybody who was foolish enough to let their guard down and share an emotion.

And it’s important to foster a safe place around our emotional selves if our goal is to create a supportive environment. This was something that we just didn’t know how to do, had never been taught how. Luckily, there are some resources for learning how to foster a supportive and nurturing environment. One where we can feel safe exploring our emotional experiences without trying to control them in ourselves, or maybe in my case and more importantly, in others, which I’ll be getting into towards the end of this post. But this type of environment is a difficult and crazy making place to be, if it’s all you’ve known about navigating emotions and receiving support.

Losing the Support I Once Knew

It was around the time of my parents divorce that I began to preform poorly in school and get into trouble more frequently. Since what I had known of support was no longer available to me, I just fell off the grid, so to speak. Everybody was so wrapped up in their own experiences of what was happening, that we were no longer available as a source of support or caring for each other. There was a lot of bad blood left during the process and everybody knew every detail.

We continued drifting apart, not even really knowing how to support one another even if we had decide to wake from our own emotional experiences for long enough to see that our family had fallen apart. We were quick to point out how someone had done harm to another, but not to help each other through the difficult emotions that came up from those hurts. And that’s assuming that we would know how to be there for each other if we could see what we were doing to one another.

So we all avoided contact, seeing each other only when we had to. This was our way of keeping ourselves safe from the wounds of the past being brushed up against by an old memory or from a current interaction. And it was in this environment that we forgot how to be support, for ourselves and another.

Licking the Wounds

We were so busy protecting ourselves and our wounds from one another, that we forgot how to be a support for somebody else in a healthy way. This was clearly for fear that we would find ourselves betrayed in the same ways we had in the past. Traumatic ways that left us wounded and untrusting. But we were also isolated, focusing only on the hurt as a reminder of what it means to get close to another. A defense mechanism that was much too built up to let anybody past.

And it was in this way of focusing on past hurts that we avoided growing beyond our smaller, wounded selves. Even now, 34 years later, we still have issues connecting due to how we’ve treated one another in our shared histories. Forgive and forget is a practice that is definitely not alive and well in my family.

But it’s also these mindsets that keep us locked in our old patterns of not being able to move past the emotions that feel too heavy, too scary to confront. For me, it’s a sense of feeling abandoned by those who were supposed to care for me. Leaving me alone at such a young age and then telling me I was in charge was a terrifying prospect to an eight year-old! So what am I doing to move past the old wounds and live the healthiest version of my life? It starts with taking ownership of my life, just as I find it.

Finding Support by Owning My Present

For me, I had to sort through a lot of poor choices I’ve made in the past. Regardless of how I was left, without guidance or to show me healthier ways of navigating my world, they were, and are, still my poor choices.

And I’m not beating myself up over the choices that didn’t have my best interests at heart. I’m owning them in a way that acknowledges I made a poor choice, but it was the best I could do under the circumstances. This gives me the comfort of knowing that now, that I am in a different place, one where I know how to ask for help, find resources and rely on people, I can make the healthier decisions that will move me forward in my life. And this is what I mean by support.

Types of Support

Debt

Support looks like, to me, finding people like Dave Ramsey when I was 100k+ in debt from the poor choices I made in the past. Following his advice on how to get out of debt, while I watch myself achieve my goals, slowly but surely, paying down what I owe.

And teaching myself how to make and stick to a budget. This was no easy task. Even when I was throwing as much money as I could towards my debt, I was still racking up $700 grocery bills, mostly in the form of taking trip to Whole Foods. That’s close to $500 a month I could have been putting towards my future! It was here that I learned the discipline to stick to the boundaries and limits I desperately needed to set for myself, in order to live a sustainable lifestyle.

Friends & Family

In terms of my relationships, support looks like asking the people who have hurt me in the past, to get together once a week and make dinner. To talk about who we are as people, revisit the past in a safe and comfortable setting, while forging new relationships with each other. Also, knowing how and when to take a rest when needed, from those close in.

Also, keeping in mind that I need to ask direct, clear questions, especially around how the other person feels. This also extends to me speaking up about how I feel during our interactions and knowing when it’s time to give the relationship and the conversation a break if things get too intense.

Internal & Emotional

While I was revisiting some of the ghosts from my past while writing this post, I was feeling overwhelmed with all the memories that were coming up. So instead of pushing past the feelings, ignoring and neglecting them in the ways they were ignored and neglected in me, from my past caregivers, I stopped, I asked what I needed for and from myself and the answer came, to take a walk by the ocean. So I stopped, listened to and attuned to my own emotional needs to take a break, and walked down to the ocean.

Reaching Out

These may seem like basic steps, but for those of us who have been severely emotionally neglected and abused, this is like learning a whole new language. And it’s difficult. In my situation, my caregivers had no idea how to attune to their emotional worlds, or listen to their own needs. They avoided themselves and their emotional needs at all costs, using denial and alcohol to subdue their internal worlds.

So it was necessary for me to reach out to somebody who had experience with healthy ways of helping me with and accepting my internal emotional world. I’ve been working with a therapist for a few years now, and the help I’ve received from her has been invaluable. Mostly just a safe place to explore how I’m feeling, while also giving names to my emotional experiences. Also having her validate that they (my emotions) are real and valid. Again, basic but so important if you’ve never had this type of mirroring and support.

Friends

And finally, friends are so important for our sense of belonging and need to feel heard, loved and supported. As I’ve said in previous posts, most of my friendships were based on the good times, avoiding the difficult work of supporting each other during the difficult ones. So when those times came, it didn’t take long for those bonds to break under the weight of hurt feelings.

I don’t speak to many of the people that used to populate my past, but the friends that did stick around for me are very dear to my heart. I literally don’t know where I’d be without them, one in particular being there for me at just the right time and place. It’s also important to feel a part of something more than just our own internal worlds. Best not to let the squirrels run to wild in the trees of our minds : )

And It Gets Easier

These are my experiences with what support looks like. If you feel as though you are in a place where you lack the support you need, go and find it. I wish someone had told me this a long time ago. I spent too many years wondering without direction, not knowing what to do with myself in my life. And it’s worth remembering too that, no one can go this life alone. It’s hard enough even with the support! So if you’ve experienced a general lack of feeling and being supported, know that it’s not to late to do something about it.

Find a therapist, make regular visits with friends or maybe try reaching out to some of the friends you have on Facebook you haven’t talked to in a while. Find a group to be a part of with shared interests. Building relationships can be tough work, but it is so worth the while. Start sharing yourself and good things are bound to come of it. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Hug” by Hans-Jörg Aleff is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Living Space: How Our Built Environment Affects Our Emotional State

I’m currently searching for an apartment. I also work part-time for a family shelter. Anyone who’s in the middle of an apartment hunt right now has probably felt the sting of pricing going up. Way up. It’s estimated that the median cost of rent for housing has gone up between 12-17% since 2020. That’s a huge increase, considering that the previous increases were roughly .6% a year.

From my experience working at the shelter, the environment you’re steeped in has a great affect on a persons emotional state. For families experiencing homelessness, the term itself brings up images of destitute individuals in unwashed clothes living in tents in the woods. So if you add unkempt surroundings to an already loaded label of being homeless, this makes for a sad way of feeling about who you are and your circumstances.

I’ve lived in a variety of houses and apartments, but none of them ever really felt like a true home. I’d like to explore a little what it is that makes a house, a home for me and maybe it’ll resonate with a few others out there, too.

First Living Experiences

The places I grew up in, in my childhood were first an apartment, and second a single family house. The apartment was on the top floor of our building and I have some fond memories of that apartment. I was also very young, so my memories aren’t that crisp. The house I later moved to was the one where many of my childhood memories were made and therefore remember with more clarity.

There were good memories, such as family gatherings and being taken to soccer games as a child. But there were also difficult ones, like the time we spent nursing a family member while she lay dying in our living room. Or the void I was left in, not seeing my caregivers for what felt like weeks at a time. This was a cold place and one filled with traumatic memories that nobody would want to revisit.

The environment in both were clean, only in the first apartment was much more cozy, felt warmer. The house however, was a cold place, sterile feeling. Clean, but without the warmth of the connection and love that makes a house, feel like a home.

The Difference Between Clean and Sterile

I was made to clean as a child, do chores. This was something I hated doing at the time, but what kid doesn’t. Though I’m glad I had the experience of keeping something up and living in a cared for environment. And it felt as though the house was always in the process of being cleaned in some form or another.

Laundry was constantly being done, there was a fair amount of cooking happening as well. But there were also times where this felt like a little too much. As though we were cleaning to cover something up. Everything had to be in its right place, no exceptions. In recent years, I’ve been in one of my childhood caregiver’s home and the kitchen was so clean that it felt as though you could preform surgery in it.

This was mildly unsettling and reminded me of a sterile environment, a place that can’t sustain life. And I feel like this is the difference between a house and a home. A home is a place where mistakes are made, people come together in their difference and accept one another as we are. Imperfect. And it’s about the people. And incase you haven’t learned this yet, people are messy creatures. Hence the phrase, “life happens”.

So if we’re constantly rejecting the messy aspects of our lives, then we’re also rejecting the parts of ourselves that are equally as messy. This is no bueno. And that’s what it felt like while I was living in my caregiver’s home. Until I got kicked out.

On My Own, Now What?

When I was 19, I was kicked out of my childhood house. A little background on my situation, I had stopped going to school when I was fifteen, had no life goals or direction, all the role models in my life had abused and neglected me and I was roaming the streets in my town looking to get messed up in some way. Thinking back now, this brings up feelings of fear and terror in me. But then I was just surviving. And on top of that, I had no one to show me how to take care of myself. I was pretty much already on my own.

So when I got the boot from my caregivers, this was only the official decree stating that I was definitely now, on my own, not wanted. In recent years, when I asked my caregiver why they kicked me out at such a young age, they said, “it happened to me.” This is what I mean when I say we were handing down a legacy of trauma and abuse to one another. And I was scared. So, I talked to two friends and a few weeks later we were living together in our first apartment. And for three nineteen year-olds, we kept the apartment pretty clean.

I remember sleeping on the couch, in the living room of my first apartment, the first night we moved in, with one of my new roommates sleeping on the floor next to me. I was feeling excited and terrified about my circumstances all at once. Uncertainty was pervasive, and I had no idea what to do next. Unfortunately for me, this was the theme of most of my living situations throughout my life.

I moved from that apartment, and in with another childhood caregiver of mine briefly, then to an apartment with one of my previous roommates. Only this time, I just moved into their entry way and didn’t ask if I could stay there. I cringe a little thinking about this now, but I felt one step away from being homeless. And again, survival took precedence. And that apartment was so dirty that it should have been condemned. How we felt about ourselves was definitely reflected in our surroundings.

Even when I was married, my feelings of drifting were still pervasive. The apartment we lived in felt comfortable, felt a good expression of our personalities and cleaner than the others I had lived in, but it didn’t feel like home. I was still reliving the patterns of my past, while avoiding the responsibility of being my own man. My now ex-wife was looking for someone who was just along for the ride. I was looking for some guidance in the form of someone making all the decisions I needed made for me, and she was looking to tell someone what to do.

So with all of these past experiences of what feels like drifting through life, what’s changed? How have I taken the reigns of my life, and as my boss says, “get behind the wheel and drive my own life bus”? It starts with recognizing where you are and where you’d like to be. Also, what you want out of life.

Lessons On Life Some Of Us Never Get

There were quite a few lessons I never received before I was kicked out of my house. One being how to budget. Another being how to care for my nutritional needs… The list goes on. But I feel the most important lesson I missed out on was, where I’d like to be and who I wanted to be as I matured.

My caregivers were too concerned with how others saw them to be their own people. This left me with almost no role models to show me how to be confident in who I was, but more importantly, foster me as I was cultivating and exploring my interests, likes and dislikes. I was hustling for my caregivers approval, only they never felt approved of. So in-turn, they didn’t know how to approve of others, or nurture my budding interests.

These basic feelings of not measuring up were pervasive in my family, and ones that were handed down through the generations. We just didn’t know how to break the cycle of looking for approval from others instead of looking for acceptance of ourselves. For my caregivers, this manifested in cleaning to the point of being sterile, but also in buying things we didn’t need.

We were constantly shopping in our family. I remember vividly in one of my apartments, looking through the Pottery Barn catalogue, at my Pottery Barn desk, circling the things that I wanted in my dwelling, while I was sleeping on a futon mattress without a bed frame. Another thing I never learned how to do was to prioritize my need. I got caught up in the same trap of trying to curate a personality by the things I bought and surrounded myself with. It was a sad and lonely place to be. But it was also all I knew and had modeled for me growing up.

It wasn’t until much later that I realized that no matter what I bought, it wasn’t going to bring me a sense of a sustained happiness. I could look how I wanted to look, play the right part, but that’s not what would bring me a deep sense of joy or satisfaction. In fact, I’m still looking for that sense of joy and happiness. I know that I’m much less anxious now that I’ve let the ideas that my surroundings have to fit the image portrayed in the pages of a catalogue. And think a big part of the puzzle is spending time with those who support and love me.

Cleaning Cabinets Even When They’re Going To Be Torn Down

As I’ve said above, I work at a family shelter part-time as direct care. This means I help the guests with their daily needs, such as doing laundry for them or getting them food items they may need. But between fulfilling my duties, there is a lot of down time. So it wasn’t too long ago that I decided to take on some projects that needed some love and attention around the house.

I started in the kitchen and for good reason, it was a mess. The cabinets had what looked like years of grease and grime rubbed into every crevasse across their surfaces. And if you opened them, they weren’t in much better shape.

The only way I can describe them is that it looked as though an animal had been nesting in them. There were packages torn open with their contents strewn about the shelves. There were piles of things in no particular order or reason. It was a mess. So I started by scraping and scrubbing the cabinet exteriors.

There was so much caked on grease that I was using a butter knife to clean it off the way you would use a putty knife to scrape off excess plaster from a wall. It reminded me of one of my first apartments, the one I moved into without asking. But the more I cleaned, the more the guests began to take notice.

They made comments about how hard I was working and how good the cabinets looked. It was nice to receive the compliment, but what I’m sure felt better was that someone was taking the time to care for the place where they cooked their meals. Later on, while I was cleaning the cabinets, my boss came over and told me we were going to tear down the cabinets in a few weeks due to a kitchen renovation, so I didn’t need to put so much effort into something that was going to be torn down anyway. But I continued cleaning all the same.

Mostly because I was almost done, and the cabinet really started to look good. But also because and more importantly, the guests were taking pride in their newly cleaned environment. The place they came to live because they were “homeless”, started to take on a new feeling. A feeling of being cared for, paid attention to. And later when I stocked the cabinet with the food from our pantry the way you would see the shelves stocked in a grocery, they started cooking and using the resources that were there for them to use in the first place. Only in a cleaner environment.

And these are the differences that a clean, inviting environment can imbue in a person living in them. A sense of pride in the place they call home. It really is amazing what a little love and attention can do for our surroundings. And if you think about it, it’s happening all around us. This is the reason why shows like “Fixer Upper” were so popular. They show what’s possible by simply taking care of the things that have been neglected.

Where is this true in your life? Instead of going out and buying something new to fill a need for change, is there something that is maybe right in front of you that could use a little TLC? I’ve almost stopped buying new things completely and have thrifted most of my major purchases in recent years. I still have the desk from Pottery Barn, but it’s now probably 15 years old and I’ll be keeping it for years to come. And most importantly, it doesn’t define my personality anymore. I am more than the desk I own, but rather now it’s an extension of my personality.

So take some time and take stock of the things you bring into your life. Ask yourself, “why do I like this so much?” Is it because it’s pleasing to you and adds comfort to your life? Or is it something you’re trying to build a life style or self image around? Because that maybe the difference between you finding things that fit your personality and finding personality by buying things. Peace and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Dirty kitchen sink from a condo in Palm Springs” by Eco Bear Biohazard Cleaning Co. is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Superiority Complex: When You Think You’re The Greatest, Kinda

This is something I know well. I’m not sure how long this post is going to be, but I’m just going to shoot from the hip on this one. I’ll explain my experience growing up, how I was raised and how I took those lessons from my early childhood care-givers and completely isolated myself from all those that tried to get close to me because I was acting as though I was better than just about everybody who came into my life. It’s a lonely story, but one that needs to be told incase others are stumbling down the same path I had.

If you are, know that it’s not to late to change things for the better. And I’ve also learned that people can be pretty forgiving. So no matter where you are on your journey, don’t lose heart! It gets better once you realize you need to shift your perspective.

When Your Way To Feel Belonging Is Through Exclusion

I grew up around a lot of big personalities. My family was loud, opinionated and rancorous at times. I don’t remember a lot of the details from my early childhood, but the main impression I got was, there were a lot of us and we had a good time.

Though, this changed abruptly with the death of a family member, we were all still pretty vocal about our opinions of others. It seemed that no matter who was being scrutinized, there was always fault to be found with the other person. The old adage, “if you don’t have anything nice to say…”, was not observed in my family’s moral or value repertoire.

And this was our main mode of feeling a sense of belonging with one another, by tearing another down. This makes me a little sad to think about it now. I don’t remember any one of my care-givers ever complimenting somebody else in the family. Not even once. I think I may have received a compliment, about my appearance. But even that’s vague and I’m not entirely sure it actually happened the way I remember it. Ah, I remember! One of my care-givers told me I had nice calves and I think it was the only compliment I ever received. This is actually a little mind blowing now that I’m writing it down.

Dangling the Carrot

The one thing my family excelled in was withholding love and affection from one another while hinting or suggesting that they could love you, if only you were different in some way. Usually to fit their mold or idea of how you should be. It seemed that everybody had an image of what the perfect life should look like and if you didn’t fit, you were tossed to the side like a piece of garbage.

This may seem like a harsh assessment, but as I’ve said above, there wasn’t any positive reinforcement or any caring and understanding persons available. You either did what was expected of you and were granted permission to ridicule others together, or you were ostracized for not belonging, being ridiculed yourself. It was a polarizing and very sad place to be caught in the middle of.

So I did what was expected of me. I followed suit and made fun of others, acted superior to just about everybody and joined in on the consistent stream of ridicule that we were laying on one another. It was either that or be completely shunned for daring to be different. These were the building blocks of how I continued to manage my relationships outside of my family. This did not bode well for me in latter years.

When You Realize You Haven’t Made the Best Decisions

Again, this way of living did not leave me in a good place. I had very little emotional support, few friends and my family was almost nonexistent. I had found myself in unhealthy relationships, and living in a pretty consistent state of fear. This was something I hadn’t really come to understand until somewhat recently.

What I realized, after thinking about the type of romantic relationship I wanted for myself was, that I am deathly afraid of all the women in my life. The women in my family were so mean, so cutting, with their words and actions, that I constantly felt on edge around them. As well as feeling this way around people that remind me of them also.

My female family members were people I was trained to see as loving individuals, only to feel that they were abusive in the most subtle of ways. And they knew no restraint in their ire which made it all the worse. As an example of the types of comments they were capable of, one of my family members had told me that another of my family members would kill themselves if I was a certain way. I couldn’t have been more than fourteen at the time, but that remark to this day still shakes me a little.

There was a callous disregard for the emotions of others in all of our interactions, which was something I picked up and used as a survival tactic to protect myself. I was also so numb from the constant woundings, that it was difficult to feel anything at all. Also this is one of the main reasons I had such trouble building meaningful and lasting relationships with anybody. I just couldn’t bring myself to be open to another after being so thoroughly abused verbally. The idea of showing my vulnerabilities to someone who could do so much damage to me, one of the cornerstone of building intimate relationships, seemed crazy to me.

So, I avoided being in relationship with others. I acted larger than life on the outside to hide the fear of being hurt again by those I loved most. I also distanced myself from just about everybody in my life, further and further until I had only a few supports who stuck with me even though I was actively trying to push them away. I would like to again extend my gratitude to those who did stick by my side. You mean the world to me. Thank you <3.

Making Better Decisions: Hey, You Can Only Go Up From the Bottom

I hadn’t really realized how isolated I was until I decided to break off my relationship with my now ex-wife. Almost all the relationships I had were through her, and the ones I kept were based on activities such as drinking or avoiding responsibilities. So when I finally took the reigns of my life back from the void I created by pushing everybody away, I found that there was a lot of work that needed to be done.

I started by making a list of those who decided to stay in my life. The title of this list is, “stay connected”. And that’s jut what it’s for. One of the things I realized on how I had managed my relationships in the past was, that I did not pay attention to those closest to me and what was happening in their lives.

If listening to others and remembering what they say sounds like a no-brainer, you’re right. But I was never shown how to foster a friendship. Never taught that people had feelings that could be delicate at times and that the ways to nurture and grow a relationship was to water it with love by showing the other attention and a willingness to be there for them and care about what they’re going through. Another cornerstone of friendships. We were too busy cutting each other apart, searching for vulnerabilities to capitalize on to concern ourselves with caring about the other and their feelings or experiences.

Hurt People Hurt People

It’s also important to recognize that the people who hurt me by acting in the ways they did, aren’t monsters. I may be painting a pretty bleak picture with the types of things said and done, but they were only doing what they felt they had to in order to feel safe. I recognize this now as their insecurity or feeling they needed to control another to feel safety and belonging. Which makes it not personal in a way. It wasn’t about me, it was about them surviving.

I was in their shoes, I know how lonely and fearful they felt. I did the same things when I was in their shoes. But there are other ways of being and it’s important to know, that understanding why someone did something isn’t the same as condoning it.

So if the old saying is true, “hurt people hurt people”, than the opposite must be true too. Loving people then love people. And this is how I’m trying to change to reflect my new way of moving through the world.

Instead of focusing on all the ways I’ve been hurt by those who should have been there to support me, I’m now focusing on first, taking good care of myself, and second, extending care to others. This is no easy task if it’s something you’re not used to doing. I had to swallow a lot of pride first in order to be able to reach out to some people who had wronged me in the past.

But it’s worth it. knowing that I’m trying to be stronger. Building resilience to the pains endured in the past makes me more able to weather the emotions that are more difficult to feel.

I Know I Need to Open Up, But How?

I know… This is, as Melba would say, “no easy”. But necessary if you want to have meaningful relationships and friendships. A lot of it comes down to blind faith. Trusting that the other, whomever they are, won’t tear you down. It’s also worth mentioning that there are no completely safe relationships.

We are going to get hurt from time to time if we are in relationship. That’s inevitable. But the types of hurt aren’t usually that bad. And if they are shaping up to look more like abuse, then maybe it’s time to revisit your boundaries in the relationship. But there is a certain amount of collateral damage that comes with being connected. Luckily, the benefits far outweigh the detriments or the other option, being completely isolating yourself to avoid pain.

If you’ve been cut deeply by others, it’s best to start slow. Find a few people, one or two people who you can trust enough to start building your new friendships, even if they’re old friends with a new beginning. Find out what your personal values are, i.e. humility, honesty, kindness, caring, and find ways to practice them in your relationships with these new friends. This may look as simple as going for a walk with them, or saying things that are supportive, practicing and establishing your values. This will build trust.

And the more you practice these values, the stronger they will become. Your friendships will be held in the foundation of these values the more you practice them. This is how trust is built. It’s worth mentioning that this is a slow process, and it’s best not to rush into these relationships bearing the full extent of your vulnerabilities.

We all know people who over-share in inappropriate ways. Aka level jumping in friendships. It’s best to get a feel for how the relationship is going first. What is the other person sharing? Is it mostly small talk? Or are they giving you a peek at their inner worlds? Depending on what they are sharing, maybe you adjust to their level of intimacy. And if you feel like going a little deeper, push the boundaries a little and see how they react, but start small. If they are sharing about their S.O., share a similar story about your S.O. and build from there. See where it takes you. Pretty soon you’ll be old friends swapping stories and creating memories while staying true to your shared, established values.

Don’t Worry, It Gets Easier

And don’t forget, this is not easy work. It takes a lot of strength and will power to start off on this road. But if you’ve found that you have acted superior to others as a form of isolating yourself to cover over feelings of insecurity as I had, just know that it gets easier with practice. The more I engage with people in honest ways, the more I show care to those closest and the more I suck up my pride when I feel like I’ve been slighted and focus on what really matters, the easier it gets.

So make a list of the people you want to surround yourself with. The people you want to build your life together with. Then make it a point, a priority to get involved with what they’re up to. Keep a running list, as I do, of what they’re going through so you can be a better friend to them. Whatever it takes, get involved (thanks Jordan.) And don’t forget to show a little humility as well. I practice this when somebody says I’m great in some way by saying, “no, we’re great”. Better together : ) Peace and thanks for reading.

Image Credits:”Quillan – Smug” by Lil Shepherd is marked with CC BY 2.0.

Lonely for the Holidays

Holidays are tricky. They can be exciting times, filled with a frenetic break from the norm. But with a mounting gift list to buy and mounds of food to make, it can be exhausting too. On the other hand, it can also be a time where we get together with the people we know, maybe a little more than we’d like to. This can be stressful to say the least. But for some of us, this is an unavoidable reality. So the question is, what happens when we change, but are still connected to our unchanging pasts. Usually, we end up lonely around the holidays.

I’ll be talking a little about my situation. How I got to where I am and what I’ve done to change the ways I relate to my past. Especially in the form of those I’m connected to, from my past. Whatever your case is, just know you’re not alone. The holidays can be difficult. But maybe we can find some healthy people to rely on to get us through. Let’s start by taking a look at how I got to where I am.

Lonely Reminders of the Unchanged Past

I’ve made some fairly drastic changes in your lifestyle. I’ve also worked diligently on keeping my mental health and well-being a priority as well. While my family… not so much. So how do we be present with the sometimes excruciating experience of being with the unchanged reminders of our past? While also keeping ourselves safe and cared for in the present without feeling lonely? It takes skill, but it can be done without revisiting some old ghosts.

Boundaries are Important

The key is to maintain healthy boundaries between where you end and those whom you’re connecting with begin. This isn’t always easy. Especially if you haven’t had healthy boundaries modeled for you in the past. I wasn’t even sure what a boundary was. In my family it was seen as being disloyal to be a separate emotional self from those around me. It was taken personally. As though they were being rejected in some way if someone didn’t take on what they were experiencing.

In case you are or were in my situation, let me tell you that this is unhealthy. First, it’s important to set some boundaries for yourself. Another way to view it is, by setting up some rules for how you will and will not accept being treated. What are the things that people do or say that make you feel poorly about yourself. As though you’re not adding up in some way. Or maybe feel ashamed about who you are if you’re not meeting someone else’s impossible standard. These are the places you’ll want to take a look at while establishing your boundaries.

Caring for Yourself While Around Those With Unhealthy Boundaries

It’s important to know and understand this aspect of your relationships. Because the longer you’re exposed to these poor boundaries, the more likely you are to take them on as your own. But also while you’re enduring these manipulations of feelings, you’re also setting the standard for how you will tolerate being treated. Maybe why we allow this breach of boundaries is because we fear feeling lonely and isolated for wanting to go against the family’s unspoken rules.

It’s critical to understand how you’re feeling while you’re in the midst of what may be an emotionally challenging environment. Strong opinions may be tossed around or mean spirited gossip may be aimed towards anyone who is seen as other. These are only a few examples of unhealthy boundaries and bonding. So in order to know how you are feeling in the middle of what could be a confusing space, it’s important to take some time to check in with your feelings.

Taking Space to Not Feel Lonely

Don’t be afraid to take space. Go for a short walk if you are some place that is scenic. Or maybe you have a favorite coffee shop nearby where you can grab a calming cup of herbal tea. Even if it’s just a corner out of the flow of people gathering around you. Take some time and space to see how you’re feeling.

Also, don’t be afraid to take this space as your own. If someone asks to come, or finds you while you’re checking in on your own, don’t hesitate to say you’d rather be alone. This is your time, and you will need some quiet to check in with yourself. You may feel a bit lonely at first. Especially if you’re just learning how to set boundaries. But the feeling of being lonely will fade as you learn to support and rely on yourself.

How to Check in With Yourself

Once you’re alone, you can start to do the work of getting to the core of how you’re dealing with and feeling about your current situation. For myself, I find a helpful place to start is by being kind to myself. It helps to allow for the emotions that are bound up for fear of being surrounded by what feels like an unsafe place to be, come to the surface and feel heard. If you’re used to an environment that is ripe with aggression, this may take some practice.

Some of the feelings you may be feeling are, lonely, anxious, overwhelmed, angry… It’s important to understand what you’re feeling in the moment, so you can respond to it with kindness. I use Tara Brach’s R.A.I.N. method for checking in with my emotions. It’s simple and effective.

I didn’t have a lot of kindness modeled for me in my youth, towards myself or others. So it took a lot of practice and getting use to before it took hold. And on top of that, I was raised to believe that kindness was not only a feminine trait, but also a sign of weakness in Men. Not for the human trait that it is. So understanding the beliefs we were raised with, will also help with uncovering our emotional selves.

Being With Your Vulnerability

Because this is vulnerable work. Sitting with our emotions and understanding how we’re feeling about them. Or towards our situations and ourselves. If all that was modeled for us was a sense of judgement and criticism, then vulnerability can be a scary and raw feeling. One we will most likely want to numb out or avoid at all costs.

I know I did for a long time. And I learned how from my family. It’s also equally as important to know that it’s not your fault. It’s not your family’s fault either. But we can only focus on ourselves and knowing that these feelings are difficult in the first place, something we instinctively want to avoid, helps a great deal to relieve some of the guilt we may be feeling in how we’ve avoided them in past and our aversion to them in the present.

Knowing How and When to Put Yourself First

This whole process is something that takes a lot of patients and courage. Standing up to your family is no easy task. But if they are locked in unhealthy patterns, it is paramount that you put yourself first and take care of your emotional health and mental space. And sometimes this can feel selfish and be a lonely place.

Sometimes I get hung up on is wanting to help, change or “save” my family from the unhealthy habits I see them wrestling with. The ones I had or still am dealing with. Because I’m seeing them from a new perspective and I want to come to their rescue. But you can’t make someone want to change. That’s important lesson to understand. Especially if you’ve grown up having your emotions manipulated by caretakers as I had. Knowing that we are solely responsible for ourselves is important to helping us create a healthy boundary between our emotional selves and those around us.

Also Knowing When to Keep the Door Open

It’s equally as important to remember that just like you, everybody is capable of making healthy choices. I used to write people off. As though they were disposable if they crossed me. This black and white way of thinking left me with a lot of burnt bridges. And hurt feelings as well, with few friends to call on for support. But it was also a way of keeping myself safe from potential sources of harm. Knowing we can keep ourselves safe while in relationship is an important step. Not only towards building healthy and lasting relationships but also helping those whom maybe want healthy relationships.

That being said, leaving the door to our vulnerable selves wide open can lead to hurt feelings or feeling taken advantage of. So there’s a balance to strike. Somewhere between not writing people off but also not letting them continue to practice old and unhealthy patterns of being in relationship. This is a place I explore with the help of my therapist. And something I definitely suggest seeking professional support and guidance for if you’re in this position. These are not places I wanted to visit at all, but to go alone and with no tools just seemed overwhelming.

Have a Plan

And finally, have a plan for what you will do if you are feeling stuck or overwhelmed. Knowing that you have a plan, even if it’s just to take a walk and get away for a bit, helps to give you a sense of agency. Like no matter what happens, you are in charge of keeping yourself safe. You can rely on and trust yourself to take care of you. Maybe in the ways you never were before.

I hope this helps in some way. The holidays can be tough. And having as many resources as possible will help to ease some of the tension they can bring. Be safe, be well and happy holidays. Peace : ]

Image Credits: “Backpacker Night Shift” by mallix is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Updated: 7/29/22

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